LINGUIST List 8.222

Sun Feb 16 1997

Qs: Aux omission, Book revision,Backchannel

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  1. Geoffrey Sampson, Nonstandard Omission of Auxiliary with Continuous Aspect?
  2. Alfred F. Rosa, Advice on textbook revision
  3. Anna Brita =?iso-8859-1?Q?Stenstr=F8m?=, backchannels

Message 1: Nonstandard Omission of Auxiliary with Continuous Aspect?

Date: Wed, 12 Feb 97 15:12 GMT
From: Geoffrey Sampson <>
Subject: Nonstandard Omission of Auxiliary with Continuous Aspect?

Nonstandard Omission of Auxiliary with Continuous Aspect?

Is there anyone out there familiar with the grammar of nonstandard
British English dialects who can comment on data that are puzzling
me? I am involved in a project which is analysing the grammar of
informal speech, using among other sources the British National
Corpus, and I am encountering passages like the following (from
a conversation provoked by the speakers' experience of hearing themselves
on a tape recording):

	Julie	I came up so loud.
	Betty	Yeah Michelle knocking at the door to see if Julie
		was ready and all that. He coming out for a <unclear>.
		Oh yeah. All of it. I said piss and all <unclear>.
	Edna	That was really funny that was.

My initial assumption about the clauses headed by "knocking" and
"coming" was that the first was intended to identify a topic before
going on to comment on it, as one might say "Jane falling into the
pond, you couldn't help laughing at that", and that the second was a
question with the initial auxiliary elided (as is common in informal
speech): "Is he coming out ...?". But these interpretations don't
seem to fit the context very well. It would be much easier to take
the clauses as meaning "Michelle was knocking at the door ...", "He
was coming out for ... ". The trouble is, I'm not aware that any kind
of British English elides BE in declarative continuous-aspect
constructions in that way; yet the sort of wording I have quoted seems
to be cropping up repeatedly, not as a random one-off.

According to the BNC User's Manual, the passage quoted was recorded in
1991 at which time Betty was 57, a housewife, social class DE,
"central south-west England". (I think the BNC regional
identification probably refers to place of residence rather than
birth, though all participants in this conversation are identified
with the same regional description, where social class is identifiable
it is low in each case, and beforehand in the same conversation one of
them explicitly alluded to the speech on the tape recording being
"West Country" -- so the probability is that these people are
long-time residents in the same region.) I don't exactly know what
the BNC compilers counted as "central south-west", but it cannot be
too far from the area where I grew up myself; Betty is just ten years
older than me. But I don't intuitively recognize this construction,
in the way that I certainly would recognize cases of omission of
auxiliary with _perfective_ aspect (say, "Michelle been to the shops",
"We seen an elephant"). I believe that West Indian English omits BE
in a wide range of circumstances, but (although the BNC manual doesn't
seem to specify speakers' race) from the information given it seems
fairly implausible that Betty and her interlocutors are anything other
than indigenous Englishwomen.

Does anyone think they can see what is going on?

In case any readers are interested more generally in the research from
this query emerges, my relevant Web page is:

Geoffrey Sampson
University of Sussex
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Message 2: Advice on textbook revision

Date: Tue, 11 Feb 1997 20:17:07 -0500 (EST)
From: Alfred F. Rosa <>
Subject: Advice on textbook revision

Virginia Clark, Paul Eschholz and I, Al Rosa, are presently revising
both our course syllabi and the contents of our textbook Language:
Introductory Readings (St. Martin's Press, 1993), and we solicit your
advice and suggestions for accessible, teachable articles, chapters of
books, or published and unpublished materials, suitable for
introductory classes, on the following topics/issues:

Definitions of Language (natural and true languages)

Phonology (foundation articles)

Morphology (foundation articles)

Word-making (better than W.N. Francis' classic chapter)

Language Universals

African-American Vernacular English (something complementary to
Smitherman's work)

Gender-based language Differences (other than Tannen)

Indo-European (other than Watkins or Thieme)

Body Language (something more up-to-date than Hall)

Language in Cyberspace (wide-open suggestions)

Sign Language (poetry in sign language?)

Language and Writing

If you yourself have written any materials that you have used
successfully with your students and would like to these with us for
possible consideration for publication in Language: Introductory
readings 6/e, do not hesitate to write us.

Thank you for your help.

Professor Alfred Rosa ||
Department of English ||
P.O. Box 54030 ||
University of Vermont || "The limits of my language
Burlington, VT 05405-0114 || mean the limits of my
Telephone: 802-656-4139 || world."
Fax: 802-656-3055 ||
e-mail: || --Ludwig Wittgenstein
Prodigy: kgdx32a ||

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Message 3: backchannels

Date: Wed, 12 Feb 1997 16:51:08 +0000
From: Anna Brita =?iso-8859-1?Q?Stenstr=F8m?= <>
Subject: backchannels

Backchannels don't seem to be a favourite object of study. Or am I
wrong? One of my postgraduate students and myself have been trying in
vain to find any recent studies in this area. Could anyone give us
some suggestions, please.

Anna-Brita Stenstrom
Anna-Brita Stenstrom
Department of English
University of Bergen
Sydnesplassen 7
5007 Bergen

Phone 47 55582369
Fax 47 55589455
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